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Bumpy road to destruction of Syria chemical weapons: Experts

Last Updated: Sunday, September 15, 2013 - 17:28

The Hague: The US-Russian deal brokered to eliminate Syria`s chemical weapons will be difficult if not impossible to implement, experts said, not least because of the quandary of their destruction.

The landmark deal thrashed out in Geneva gives Syria a week to hand over details of his regime`s stockpile, which it aims to destroy by mid-2014 in order to avert US-led military strikes.

But chemical weapons expert Jean Pascal Zanders said that timetable is irrelevant because decision-making now passes to the Executive Council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

Based in The Hague, the OPCW is charged with implementing the Chemical Weapons Convention, which Syria asked to join amid growing calls for military action against Damascus.

"The Executive Council has sovereign decision-making, and the US and Russia just have one vote each among the 41 members, so I wouldn`t be surprised if we don`t have consensus decision-making," Zanders said.

"All deadlines proposed in the bilateral document (in Geneva) will only start running once the (Executive Council) decision has been taken," said Zanders, who runs a consultancy and blog dedicated to disarmament.

The OPCW`s Executive Council is currently set to meet on Wednesday, but a source close to the matter said that date might be pushed back to Thursday or Friday.

Even once inspectors are deployed and stockpiles are found, they face the practical problem of destruction, said Olivier Lepick of the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris.

"You have to build a factory that costs several hundreds of millions of dollars to then be able to destroy the chemical weapons," Lepick said.

In Iraq, weapons inspectors used innovative but problematic methods to destroy Saddam Hussein`s weapons of mass destruction, Zanders said.

"Sometimes holes were dug in the desert, fuel was put in it and a certain type of detonation was created that equals the effect of a fuel air bomb as a result of which you had high temperature incineration, which was not necessarily contained or controlled."

Taking the weapons out of Syria would also be a problem. "The CWC (Chemical Weapons Convention) says chemical weapons and their ingredients cannot be transferred and no state party can under whatever circumstances acquire them in any way," Zanders said.

Syrian foe Israel is one of a handful of countries not to have ratified the CWC, and as it is the only one with a border with Syria, sending them there would "be the only option that`s not prohibited by the CWC," he said.
"But I don`t know what Bibi`s (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) reaction would be to get them on Israeli territory."
For the same reason, taking the weapons to either the United States or Russia would also not be possible.


First Published: Sunday, September 15, 2013 - 17:28

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